I Don’t Have The Energy To Be Angry. I’m Tired, And I’m Sad.

by Bec Hawkings

I am not a second-class citizen.

I have an Australian passport. I am able to tick ‘Australian citizen’ on any and all pieces of paperwork that come my way. I work, and I study, and I live here, and have done so for my entire life. I pay taxes, and I study at an Australian university, and I vote in every election. I am middle class, Anglo-Saxon, and reap the benefits of living so close to Australia’s largest urban centre. I am, on most accounts, a fully-participating member of Australian society, and for that I am incredibly thankful.

But yesterday, just for a moment, I felt decidedly on the outer of society. Yesterday, you see, Prime Minister Julia Gillard re-affirmed her opposition to same-sex marriage. In an opinion piece written for The Age, Gillard said,

“I support maintaining the Marriage Act in its current form, and the government will not move legislation to change it. My position flows from my strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and that should continue unchanged.”

First, a brief history. The Marriage Act to which Prime Minister Gillard refers is the Marriage Amendment Act (2004), which was introduced by then-federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock. Primarily, it added the following amendment to the Marriage Act (1961):

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

In doing so, the Marriage Amendment Act (2004) formally legislated against same-sex marriage in Australia. It is this amendment that Prime Minister Gillard supports, despite the most recent Neilsen poll citing public support for same-sex marriage at 68% (a number which increases to 71% among Labor Party voters.) There is a certain kind of bravado required to stand so stringently against public opinion and the opinion of much of your party; ‘bravado’ is, of course, the most polite synonym for ‘stupidity.’

What Prime Minister Gillard fails to recognise is that culture is not a static entity; that cultural institutions are subject to change and development as a society progresses. To argue that same-sex marriage is dichotomous to Australian culture is to ignore the most persistent of Australian cultural pillars – tolerance, acceptance, and the ability to understand that Australian society is a multi-faceted and beautifully diverse actuality. We do not question female suffrage, or the right of Indigenous Australians to be recognised as Australian citizens, or the right for married couples to seek divorce, or the ability of single parents to raise healthy and happy children. We pride ourselves on our acceptance of the above, and go so far as to cite them as evidence of our cultural progressiveness. Yet there was a time when allowing only Anglo-Saxon males to vote was ‘tradition.’ There was a time when preventing divorce, even in cases of extreme abuse, was ‘tradition.’ There was a time when single parents were viewed as inferior and dangerous; this, too, defended by ‘tradition.’

‘Tradition’ is a weak and ultimately ineffective defence. Those that argue for ‘traditional marriage’ are inadvertently arguing for a version of marriage abhorrent to our modern sensibilities: women as property, no state involvement in marriages, no legal recognition of marriages, no marriage for those not belonging to a specific church or religious group, no interracial marriage, a preference for marrying within the family, arranged marriages, and the marrying of children to men sixty years their senior. And yet, ‘traditional marriage’ persists as a political policy.

Next month, I’m travelling to Brisbane to attend the wedding of a dear friend and her lovely partner. In so many ways, their wedding goes against ‘traditional marriage’ – my friend’s involvement in the world of theatre and the arts means that the wedding and its guests are invariably going to be colourful and left-of-centre and wonderfully odd. They may be a Christian, opposite-sex couple, but this wedding will not be your standard bland suburban affair. For the most part, I am so very excited to attend the wedding, and to see my darling friend get married to her perfect match. There is, however, the smallest tinge of sadness that lurks at the back of my mind, and it is that sadness which so thoroughly consumed me yesterday while reading Gillard’s column in The Age. Marriage is not an institution that I am able to participate in; despite the fact that I am an Australian citizen, and over the age of eighteen, and of sound mind, the right to marry is denied to me, simply because I would be marrying someone of the same sex as myself. It is hard not to feel like a second-class citizen when you are denied access to an institution that so many of your friends and family and colleagues and acquaintances can participate in without a second thought.

I am not a second-class citizen, except in the eyes of my Prime Minister.